6 October 2018

Ethiopia: Jobs, Jobs, Jobs - Not Just a Cliché

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Ethiopia faces a slew of economic issues. Inflation is high, infrastructure is inadequate and debt is piling up, with future generations being left to foot the bill.

But perhaps the most worrying issue, and which surprisingly does not get as much attention from opposition parties who purport to represent the youth, is the lack of employment opportunities.

We can see young people fixated on job vacancies posted on billboards, newspapers or electric polls all over town. Even the thousands that graduate from universities are not safe from this nationwide dilemma.

This is despite the efforts by the government to create job opportunities. It had chiefly concentrated its effort in undertaking massive infrastructure projects, employed to stimulate the economy and create jobs. Officials claim that millions of jobs have been created this way, but it has not caught up with the relentless population growth or preferences of the youth to get a job that conforms to their standard of living.

The Central Statistical Agency claims that 16pc of adults are jobless. There is the perception that it could be much higher than that as people know many youth close to them are not employed. The statistics also do not tell us how many are working part-time and are still dependent on their families or about the massive turnover rate at firms.

Surely, the past three years of political unrest have exacerbated the problem to a point where it will take decades to address it meaningfully. For years now, foreign firms will be reluctant to invest in Ethiopia, and domestic investors will be more prone to save their money or move it out of the country. This will translate into low rates of new investments and expansions, limiting the number of jobs likely to be created.

This problem will be compounded by the fact that the government is running out of money, primarily foreign currency. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) himself has said that there will not be new large projects this year.

The population will continue to grow as new graduates from colleges and universities join the labor market. The dip in economic growth will not afford them job opportunities, and they will be left to idle away. Dissatisfaction will thrive in this environment, and political unrest may well continue.

Some will also find that one way or another, they have to survive. They will try to make the dangerous trek across the Mediterranean to a country they believe will offer them opportunities. Others will try to earn their daily bread by joining the life of crime, and yet others the red light districts sprouting across Addis Abeba.

The first few years on the job market are crucial for young people to establish a stable career and life path. If they struggle in their first few years in the job market, it is difficult for them to catch up with their peers that do obtain jobs.

It is a time when young people need to realise that they should be more competitive and entrepreneurial. Employment in the formal sector offers an opportunity to grow even if the first beginnings are not as pretty.

Job hunting is a very tiring problem. Many find jobs in newspapers or on vacancy boards. But others have learned that the internet offers a better opportunity. Young people, looking for a job should learn new skills and meet with new people.

Non-governmental organisations could be of great help here since youth from non-urban areas may lag in this new mechanism of job searching. They should be able to provide seminars where young people from all walks of life can go out for a job search with all the necessary information at hand.

But it is the government that can do the most to get more people employed. It should be able to open up the economy for the private sector to become a prime employer of young people. This will not only allow large investors to expand or open new firms. It will stimulate the entrepreneurial spirit of youngsters who could become tomorrow's employers.

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